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What hath God wrought?
The Reaping is the fifth film out of the top 10 worst reviewed films of the first half 2007 from the Rotten Tomatoes website that I've had the pleasure to review. I collect weird things like this every so often, but it baffles me, for nothing else than the fact that a two-time Oscar winner is the star of this interesting musing on religion versus science. So now that it's out on home video, does The Reaping enjoy what it's sowed on Blu-ray disc?
Facts of the Case
Written by the twin brother combination of Chad and Carey Hayes (House of Wax) and directed by Stephen Hopkins (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), Katherine (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby) is a research scientist with a knack of disproving the existence of religious "miracles" or plagues. At the urging of her old priest, Father Costigan (Stephen Rea, The Crying Game) she travels to a small town in Louisiana where the river has turned to blood. Her and her assistant Ben (Idris Elba, The Wire) examine this and other subsequent plagues in the town, and a young girl, Loren (AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia), who is believed to be the cause of all the town's misfortune.
When a film underachieves or executes its story poorly, sometimes film critics have a tendency to pile on mounds of derision. It's been that way since at least Heaven's Gate in 1980 and continues to be that way today with The Reaping. Am I here to defend it? God no, but when people say that you should "Passover it" (Frank Swietek) or label it "The 11th Biblical Plague" (Christopher Smith), it does come across as a little bit unfair. Before talking about the film though, let me talk about a couple of things I didn't really know before watching this:
• Hilary Swank is actually kind of attractive. She's usually walking around in these heavy dramatic pieces under a lot of raps or a short haircut, or doing things wholly unfeminine. But here, she's walking around the last two thirds of the film in a slinky tube top, sweating the whole time. It's clear that she's in shape, and if she wasn't John Elway's cousin twice removed in the dental department, would definitely be worth looking at in Maxim.
• Idris Elba is British? Really? The only, and I mean only, place that I was aware of him before was as Stringer Bell in the awesomest cop show in recent memory, The Wire. Notice how that and Homicide: Life on the Street are both set in Baltimore? I'm just saying is all. Anyway, Elba was a slightly more interesting figure to watch than Swank, if for nothing else than I expected him to bring Avon Barksdale down to Louisiana and break some whoop-ass off on some Louisiana locusts.
Past that, I can honestly say that The Reaping doesn't do anything new or original to hook me, unless putting Hilary Swank in a steamy heterosexual love scene counts. The Hayes brothers take a talented character with a traumatic moment in her past, and force her to reconcile it when dealing with her most recent challenge. If that doesn't reek of creative complacency, nothing does. Throw in Rea as a scarce and much less effective counsel to Swank's character, and you have Father Karras and Father Merrin, albeit 35 years later, and one's a chick. I did a little more research, just to find out why this film got the pub that it did when it came out theatrically and sure enough, "Joel Silver, producer" was all I needed. The guy who also produced Gothika, Ghost Ship and Thir13en Ghosts and apparently wanted to try to produce another horror/thriller film with a female lead, but he should have quit while he was ahead.
Warner Bros. uses the VC-1 codec on its HD DVD and Blu-ray releases, and this one is no different. The level of detail isn't necessarily the best, but the blacks are solid and provide an excellent contrast, and the film grain is present through most of the film. Where Warner splits from Sony in the audio department is the exclusion of PCM for favor of a TrueHD sound choice to go with the 5.1 surround track. For disclosure's sake, this is the first film I'm reviewing on a new speaker setup, and I loved how it sounded. Low end fidelity is solid, dialogue is balanced and well placed in the center channel, sounding rather clear. The extras on the disc are pretty innocuous, with four small featurettes discussing the phenomena and the production in general. "Science of the 10 Plagues" includes scientists reasoning how some of the plagues occurred. "The Characters" has the cast and crew discussing their roles in the film and what they thought of the story, while "A Place Called Haven" is a look at the Louisiana location. A quick minute is spent watching Elba navigate some huge locusts. The only other thing is Robb reading a "scary story" she wrote while shooting the film. It includes footage of her reading it and some stock footage to set the mood. Why do I have the feeling her parents told the Warner Video people she could do this for a quick royalty or two?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Many people seem to want to tackle the discussion of science versus faith in films, and there was certainly ample groundwork here for a compelling story. But the film seemed to go more towards the obvious scare, using quick cuts and shady characters moving in the background, and didn't explore it anymore after the first act. Kind of sad really, as I liked where I thought it was going.
The Reaping takes a promising start when it looks at the science behind some of the "plagues" in the world, but then it starts to become enamored with its special effects, and pretty soon it's throwing everything it possibly can against the wall in the event to scare the viewer. The performances are decent without being unbelievable, the problem clearly lies in the story and the way that it's told. If you're in the mood for an extracurricular surprise or two it might be worth watching, but otherwise it's not worth your time.
God should rain some frogs into a lake of fire for the filmmakers on this one. Cue the corny joke, this is guilty as sin.
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• Featurette: "Science of the 10 Plagues"
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